Monday, April 19, 2010

Geek Gore: Kick-Ass, Zombieland and the Bloody Indie-Cool Uprising

I caught Kick-Ass with fellow Cinewisers riCan and Charlie this past weekend, and although we thoroughly enjoyed it, none of us seemed to share the enthusiasm of our cinema cohort The Bru (read his truly excellent review here). Was Chloe Moretz’s performance as Hit Girl anything short of insta-classic? Hells no – it’ll be hard for me to more enjoy another singular performance this year. Was Matthew Vaughn’s surreal reimagining of the comic book flick not a whip smart genre game changer? Well…I’m not sure. Snatch aside, it’s probably the best thing London’s little rich boy has ever produced (and honestly, which flick is better is a deserving debate). But I’d argue that Kick-Ass does more to establish a developing cinematic sub-genre than to reinvent the blockbuster territory cemented by Batman, Iron Man and the like.

My gripes with Kick-Ass, while small, lie within the elements of its foundation – the set-up, while simultaneously creative and classical in its origin story, felt a little too slow, and a little too labored. But most importantly, I thought the main character (Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass) was just…kinda…boring. Not because Aaron Johnson portrayed him poorly. And not because he was the lamest of the heroes. But because I really didn’t care about him, his lack of motivation, depth as a person, and stakes as a protagonist.

You could argue that Dave’s every-day-guy persona is the point, and I’d argue that just because someone is “normal” or “average” doesn’t mean they’re boring. But I’d also say you’re right – in this new sub-genre, the lame-o geek is the wussy Kick-Ass hero. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Geek Gore...

Sitting through Kick-Ass, I felt a familiar reaction to the glossy, comic book geek-cool of the gore onscreen. At some point I realized I had the same reaction to Zombieland (2009), which I’d finally seen a week earlier. And I realized the gleeful, lampooning approach to an established genre was one in the same.

Both films tackle cinema classics (super hero movies and zombie flicks, for those playing at home) from gleefully new and interesting perspectives.

Take the main character, here played by Johnson, and in Zombieland played by go-to social outcast Jesse Eisenberg. Both are classically uncool – Johnson reads comic-books and stays home at night jerking off to nipple slips, while Eisenberg can’t bring himself to leave his apartment, Code Red Mountain Dew orhis computer games until the Zombie Apocalypse forces him to. Both rely on their geekdom to survive an imposing world. And both manage to “good guy” their way into the panties of the hot girl (trendy geek-nerd lover Emma Stone in Zombie, relatively new hot girl Lyndsy Fonseca in Kick-Ass).

Both get some majorly needed ass-kicking help from Hollywood veterans – Nicholas Cage as the Adam West mimicking vigilante Big Daddy, and Woody Harrelson as a tough-guy hick with a penchant for violence and twinkies.

Both feature little girls disturbingly comfortable with their ridiculously dangerous surroundings, although Moretz's death-on-a-stick Hit Girl is almost psychotically adjusted when compared to Abigail Breslin’s zombie killer in training.

Finally, both films approach the ensuing violence with slaphappy humor, amping up the fun with creatively bloody kills and approaching death and disaster with satirical charm and a newly possessed sense of entitlement. Their’s is a desensitized and empowered world. Their graphic bibles have become powerful cash cows, bovines of almost Hinduisitic importance in the land of big movies and bigger money. Fanboys have become a targeted audiences. Geeks have become kings. And with these two films, they’ve translated that importance into their own, appropriately indie-cool uprising. And they’re taking back their territory.

No longer do pretty boys in blockbusters with Hollywood standards get to corner the market. Now the Geek’s get the fun, the girls and the money. Kick-Ass may have underwhelmed at the U.S. Box Office this weekend, but it’s already made up for its comparatively miniscule $30 million production budget, with earnings upward of $37 mil worldwide. And it’s just getting started. Zombieland, meanwhile, chainsawed its way to a cool $102 mil worldwide last year, on a $24 mil budget.

This could be just the beginning, or it could all fizzle out like so much internet fanboy buzz. But either way, a statement has been made, in colorfully enjoyable and memorable films. Geeks can Kick-Ass too, and they’re gonna have a lot of fun doing it.

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